WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- President Bush said Friday the U.N. Security Council was at a "defining moment" in its history and in the standoff with Iraq and must act soon to compel Iraq to disarm or lose credibility.
The pronouncement, made to reporters before the swearing in Friday of Treasury Secretary John Snow, made it clear the president's "the game is over" comment Thursday applied to the U.N. body as well as to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"The U.N. Security Council's got to make up it mind, soon, as to whether or not its words mean anything," Bush said on the steps of the Treasury Department building.
Earlier in the morning Bush pressed the point on the need to stand firm in the face of Iraqi defiance in a telephone conversation with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, the White House said. French President Jacques Chirac, who like Jiang is opposed to the use of force, was on the receiving end of the same argument later.
Both China and France, as permanent members of the Security Council, have veto power over any proposed resolution.
"President Bush stressed that time was of the essence in dealing with Iraq, and he stressed that the credibility of the United Nations was at stake," spokesman Ari Fleischer said of the conversation with Jiang. Chirac and Bush agreed on the importance of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and would continue consulting, he added.
On Thursday, Bush said he expected Saddam to continue to try and evade U.N. inspectors charged with ensuring Iraq had divested itself of suspected chemical and biological weapons, while pretending to cooperate with them. "No doubt," said Bush, "he will play a last-minute game of deception. The game is over."
Friday Bush reiterated his earlier comments that a second U.N. resolution, possibly authorizing the use of force against Iraq -- something desired by many nations to justify their participation in any military campaign -- was welcome, but not needed. If the Security Council did not act to disarm Iraq voluntarily or by force now, the United States would, Bush said. "I have said that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him. And I mean it."
Bush first challenged the United Nation on Iraq in September. After weeks of a concerted U.S. diplomatic campaign, the 15-member Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, which found Iraq in material breach of past disarmament resolutions and demanded its full and complete cooperation in either proving it did not harbor proscribed chemical and biological weapons or was ridding itself of them.
Secretary of State Colin Powell on Tuesday called Iraq's cooperation into question, presenting to the council intercepted conversations, satellite photos and other materials he said showed Iraq was playing a hide-and-seek game with U.N. weapons inspectors.
Despite the evidence, France, Russia and China have said U.N. inspectors should continue their operations in Iraq for an indefinite period.
More than 130,000 U.S. troops are either in the Gulf or on their way to confront Iraq if the order is given. On Thursday, the Army's elite 101st Airborne Division received orders to join them.
Bush, who often cites Saddam Hussein's long record of deception and defiance on Security Council mandates, has warned that Saddam may try to feign partial cooperation to head off a military strike, but the U.N. must not allow itself to be deceived.
"The Security Council unanimously passed a resolution, called 1441, that said Saddam Hussein must completely disarm," Bush said Friday. "Saddam Hussein has not disarmed. Colin Powell made that case very clear.
"Now the members of the Security Council can decide whether or not that resolution will have any force, whether it means anything. This is a defining moment for the U.N. Security Council. If the Security Council were to allow a dictator to lie and deceive, the Security Council will be weakened."
Following Powell's appearance, Washington picked up the pace of its diplomatic offensive to convince states to join the U.S. position and to convince Security Council members to act in "weeks, not months," as Bush has said.
Bush is schedule Monday to meet Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a strong supporter of the U.S. position on Iraq, and on Tuesday the president of Ecuador.
Washington, together with the British government, considers Iraq a grave danger to national security and world peace due to its defiance, failure to account for weapons of mass destruction it was known to possess in the late 1990s, and its potential to provide them to terrorist organizations.